Blame it on high wages, movies such as Casino and Ocean’s 11, or the sudden popularity of poker: Calgary is a city of one million people and seven full-scale casinos, with one more a short drive away. Modeled after the pleasure palaces of Las Vegas, these casinos are modern facilities with dining, entertainment and a slew of games, whether you like slots, table games or the ever-popular poker. To help you navigate Calgary’s crowded casino scene, we’ve put together a rundown of what the top casinos have to offer, as well as an intro to gambling for newcomers.
Stampede Casino dates back to 1969—when it was called Frontier Casino—but opened in its new location in 2008. The new 96,000-sq. ft. facility has blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, Pai Gow, more than 600 slots and a 24-hour poker room. But, one of the new facility’s best improvements is the dining: patrons can choose between the Bambu Thai Noodle House, Grasslands Café or the 1912 Bar & Grill.
Deerfoot Inn & Casino
Deerfoot is a casino, conference centre and hotel wrapped-into-one, known for hosting boxing events and performances by bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and Emerson Drive. The casino itself hosts blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps, Tile Pai Gow, poker and more than 725 slot machines, with high limit and private poker rooms for true aficionados. Dining options include a lounge, pub, restaurant and dinner buffets every Friday at the Chrome Showroom.
Grey Eagle Casino & Bingo
The Tsuu T’ina First Nation, located just west of city limits, is the site of the largest casino in the Calgary area: Grey Eagle. Sleek and modern, it has two restaurants, two bars, live entertainment and an adjacent bingo hall. Games include poker, blackjack, Let it Ride, baccarat, craps, Pai Gow, roulette, a Big Six wheel and 600 slots. Its location also means that it is the only casino in the Calgary area with smoking areas.
Elbow River Casino
Elbow River Casino occupies some of the most impressive real estate in Calgary, located on the southern edge of downtown next to the Elbow River and close to Stampede Park. The original casino opened in 1989 as Alberta’s first “purpose-built” casino, but relocated to a new building one block north in 2005. The 77,000-sq. ft. facility offers 24-hour poker, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, craps, more than 600 slot machines and the Yuk Yuks comedy club, which just re-opened in its new location this year. Elbow River is also home to an impressive buffet selection, with a surf ‘n’ turf on Monday nights, Cajun creole on Wednesday nights, and prime rib on Saturdays.
Stoney Nakoda Resort
The majesty of the Alberta Rockies frames Stoney Nakoda Resort, a destination casino located between Calgary and Canmore. The facility is owned by the Stoney Nakoda Nation, and is the largest casino for residents and tourists in the Alberta Rockies. Construction is still underway in the hotel portion, but the casino is open: 15 table games, including blackjack, Extreme 21, roulette, baccarat and poker, as well as 300 slot machines. Like Grey Eagle, its location means that smoking is permitted in certain areas. Junction of Hwy 1 and Hwy 40, 403-881-2830.
In true Alberta fashion, a cowboy and bucking bronco guard the doors of Casino Calgary, located in the north, near 16 Avenue. But, despite a theme harking back to frontier days, Casino Calgary is a modern facility that expanded in 2004 to include new features such as a stage and three-storey atrium. Games include all the usual suspects—blackjack, craps, baccarat, Tile Pai Gow and Caribbean Stud—as well as over 800 slot machines and 24-hour poker.
Blackjack is the casino industry’s highest earner, and its most popular table game. The best strategy is to know the odds and learn to make split-second decisions based on probability. The goal is to have a higher hand than the dealer without going over 21, or to force the dealer to go over 21 while you stay below. Numbered cards (2-10) are worth their face value, Jacks, kings and queens are worth 10, and aces can either be worth 1 or 11. The dealers simultaneously deal two cards to themselves and the players at the table. If you want another card, tap the table with your pointer finger; if you don’t, do a small wave with your hand.
Tip: Make sure you use the hand gestures, and remember to tap the table, not your cards.
In North America, roulette takes a backseat to blackjack and craps, but in Europe it is extremely popular. It is a slower paced game, easy to understand and based entirely on chance instead of strategy or skill. A roulette wheel is made up of 38 pockets: numbers 1-36, a 0, and a 00. A roulette table is like a grid that lays out all the available bets; simply place your chips on the table’s square of your choice. For example, if you think the ball will land in the 15 pocket, you’d place your chips in the 15 square. Or, you can make an outside bet, such as what colour the pocket will be (red or black), whether it will be an odd or even number, etc. The biggest payout is for inside bets (a single number is 35 to 1), while outside bets pay as little as 1 to 1.
Tip: Look out for European roulette wheels, which don’t have a 00 pocket—giving you better odds.
Craps is the highest energy game in the casino. But, it can be complex to learn, with an intricate layout and its own set of terminology. Craps is played with a set of dice, and the key to playing effectively is knowing the probabilities. There are two rounds. The first roll of the first round is called the “come-out roll,” during which players make either a “pass line” bet (that the shooter will have a good roll) or a “don’t pass line” bet (that the shooter will have a bad roll). After the come-out roll, the dice determine how the game develops. The shooter wins if the come-out roll totals 7 or 11; the casino wins if it totals 2, 3 or 12. For all other totals, the play moves into round two, where the shooter tries to replicate the results of the come-out roll. But, if the dice total 7 before that can happen, the house automatically wins.
Tip: Be wary of putting your chips on the don’t pass line—the other players will consider it a betrayal.
It doesn’t take a casino regular to notice poker’s surge in popularity, thanks to Internet gaming and shows such as Celebrity Poker Showdown. If you know what you’re doing, poker can have the best odds in the casino. It also has an undercurrent of psychological warfare; unlike other casino games, poker doesn’t pit players against the house, but against each other. The most common variety is Texas Hold’em, which is usually played in a room separate from the rest of the casino. The basic goal is to win the pot by having the best hand, or by making the other players fold. There are ten types of poker hands, with five cards each—make sure you know each one intimately before attempting to play, especially in a casino.
Tip: Do not hold your cards up to your face. Bend the cards upwards until you can see their identity, and then let them lay on the table.
Baccarat is known as the game for affluent gamblers. Like roulette, it is not about developing a skill or knowing the odds, but being a lucky guesser. Players can make three bets: banker, player or tie. What they’re wagering on is whether the player pile or the banker pile will be closer to totalling 9. If they make a tie bet, then they’re guessing the player and banker hands will be equal. Numbered cards (2-9) are worth their face value, 10, Jack, king and queen are worth 0, and aces are worth 1. If the cards total more than 9, the first digit is ignored. For example, if the cards are a 6 and 7, they total 3 (6 + 7 = 13, remove the first digit).
Tip: Never bet on a tie—the house has an edge of 14.36 per cent.
• If you’re not sure of the protocol of a game, take cues from the players around you.
• Always know the table limit, i.e. the minimum and maximum bets a player can make.
• Do not hand money to the dealer; put it on the table and he or she will pick it up.
• Don’t touch your bet once the game starts. Wait until you’ve been paid, or your wager has been taken away. Casinos are wary that gamblers will try to pinch (decrease) or cap (increase) their bet.
• Cages are where you exchange your chips for cash—never expect the dealer to cash you out.—Sally MacKinnon